The Pebble and the Penguin

The Pebble and the Penguin is a 1995 American animated musical adventure film, starring the voices of Martin Short and Jim Belushi, based on the true life mating rituals of the Adélie penguins in Antarctica, produced and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. It centers around a timid, stuttering penguin named Hubie who tries to impress a beautiful penguin named Marina by giving her a pebble that fell from the sky and keep her from the clutches of an evil penguin named Drake who wants Marina for himself. Towards the end of production, MGM made giant changes for the movie, which caused Don Bluth and Gary Goldman to leave their film and demand to have their names taken off the film, the two would start working on a new animation studio in Phoenix, Arizona. The film was released to theaters by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on April 12, 1995,[2] making this the last film to be produced by Sullivan Bluth Studios before the studio went bankrupt.

The Pebble and the Penguin
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byDon Bluth (uncredited)
Gary Goldman (uncredited)
Produced byRussell Boland
James Butterworth[1]
Don Bluth (uncredited)
Gary Goldman (uncredited)
John Pomeroy (uncredited)
Screenplay byRachel Koretsky
Steven Whitestone[1]
Narrated byShani Wallis
Music byBarry Manilow
Bruce Sussman (songs)
Mark Watters (score)
Edited byThomas Moss
Fiona Trayler
Distributed byMGM/UA Distribution Co.
Release date
  • April 12, 1995 (1995-04-12)[2]
Running time
74 minutes
CountryUnited States[2]
Budget$28 million
Box office$3,983,912 [3]


Hubie is a shy and good hearted penguin who is in love with Marina. His competition for Marina's affection is Drake, a muscular yet cruel penguin who is said to always get his way. One night, Hubie and Marina discuss their feelings for each other, but Hubie is unable to find a suitable pebble to propose to Marina with due to both his clumsiness and the other penguins desperately trying to find pebbles too. He wishes on a star to make his dream come true and he receives a beautiful emerald cube from the sky. Hubie ecstatically rushes to find Marina but is thwarted by Drake, who mocks the penguin telling him nobody will marry somebody like him. When Drake demands Hubie to give him the emerald, Hubie refuses and Drake throws him into the water. Hubie narrowly escapes from a leopard seal and climbs onto a piece of an iceberg where he is swept away from Antarctica.

Hubie is brought aboard a ship en route to a zoo and is caged amongst the company of other penguins. Hubie has a vision of Marina in danger and escapes from the ship with a grouchy rockhopper penguin named Rocko The Rockhopper, or "Rocko" for short. As the pair lay low on a beach, Rocko reluctantly tells Hubie of his desire to fly. Hubie convinces Rocko to join him in his journey back to Antarctica by concocting an imaginary flying penguin named Waldo. Meanwhile, Drake attempts to press Marina into his hand in mating by threatening her with expulsion from the rookery if she refuses. Rocko soon discovers Hubie's deception, which initially infuriates him, but recognizes Hubie's will to return to Marina and remains at his side.

The pair's friendship is further fortified following an escape from a leopard seal while hunting for fish. They are later attacked by a pod of killer whales. During the scuffle, Hubie's pebble is lost and Rocko is presumed to killed by the killer whales. Hubie eventually finds Drake, who had kidnapped Marina to force her to be his mate, and fights him by doing martial arts, which gives him new powers and defeats Drake by knocking him off the stairway. Hubie becomes overjoyed when Marina accepts his marriage proposal, and more so when Rocko turns out to be alive. Suddenly, Drake bursts out from underneath a stair Marina was standing on, and in a final attack, throws it at Hubie, but he and Rocko both manage to dodge it just in time. This causes his tower to collapse with a block crushing Drake. However, Rocko saves Hubie and Marina and gives the pebble to them. During the escape, he somehow achieves flight and rescues Hubie and Marina. Hubie presents his pebble to Marina, and she tells him that she loves his pebble, but loves him even more and the two become mates. The film closes on Rocko teaching Hubie and Marina's offspring how to fly.

Cast and characters



The Animated Movie Guide said "considering the artistic and financial success of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman decided to cater to the dating crowd, in addition to preschoolers".[5] The Pebble and the Penguin was produced by Don Bluth Ireland Limited. At one point, production began in November 1991. The working title of the film was A Penguin Story. In 1994, "Bluth spoke enthusiastically of such pending projects as The Pebble and the Penguin and A Troll in Central Park".[6] The film was originally slated for release in summer 1994 (while Thumbelina was scheduled for November 1993 and A Troll in Central Park was scheduled for March 1994), but due to some production difficulties (and probably to avoid competition with The Lion King, Baby's Day Out, Speed, and Forrest Gump), the film's release date was changed to April 1995.[7]

Animation and research

Though Bluth Productions was based in Dublin, artists from Ireland, England and Hungary worked on the project, at least seven directing animators working on the film; among them John Pomeroy.[8] The penguins in the film are clothed. Humans wearing penguin costumes were filmed and then used as photostat references for the animators.[5] The iconic quote from Hubie, "Goodness glaciers!" as well as his overall appearance, is a sly reference to Gentleman Glacier, an old Canadian newspaper cartoon used to illustrate snow accumulation each year. Only two scenes in the film were "augmented by computer animation", one of which being "The Good Ship Misery" song sequence.[9] The opening credit and overture sequence has the animated penguin characters playing and dancing on the sheet music for the songs in the film. According to The Free Lance–Star, the animators researched for the film by "watching documentaries and visiting zoos, such as San Diego's Sea World and Scotland's Glasgow Zoo". The site added that in promotional material, the animators explained they "discovered that the land of snow and ice shines with many different hues".[9]

Production problems

MGM insisted for numerous changes to be made to the film, such as removing some characters, trimming down some sequences, and having the voices be re-recorded, as a result, the animation, in particular the special effects, fell behind and to make sure the movie made it to the deadline, additional coloring had to be done at Reflex Animation Ltd, a Hungarian animation studio. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were so dissatisfied with the changes MGM was insisting that they left during production (to help set up Fox Animation Studios) and demanded to be uncredited as the directors.[10] The book Animated Films said, "changes at MGM during production...resulted in the project being affected in terms of production value".[11] In a 2001 edition of his magazine Toon Talk, Bluth admitted "Penguin had story problems. We knew it. The crew knew it". Though he attempted to fix these issues when his Irish studio got taken over by the Hong Kong company Media Assets, "the story and film were now compromised", so neither he nor Goldman stayed. They had their names removed from the film's credits and accepted an offer by Bill Mechanic - 20th Century Fox's then-president - to set up a new animation studio in the US (which would become Fox Animation Studios). Bluth said to his animation crew "I can't chew with someone else's mouth".[5] Despite this executive interference, The Animated Movie Guide noted MGM/UA producer Walter Mirisch's comments on the film: "I think it's one of Don's best films ever...There's no issue of our claiming the credit for this. It's his film".[5]


The songs were written by Barry Manilow, who previously wrote the songs for Thumbelina, along with longtime collaborator and lyricist Bruce Sussman.[9] The film's score was composed by Mark Watters. Manilow, who had "started off wanting to be a composer," got an opportunity to do this when he was approached to "compose songs and the underscore" for the film and Thumbelina.[12] Barbadian singer Geoffrey Holder sang the deleted song "The Beachmaster" for the film.[13] An accompanying soundtrack was released on April 11, 1995. The instruments in the songs and score were performed by The Irish Film Orchestra. This soundtrack is currently out of print.

This is a list of musical numbers for the film:

1"Now and Forever"Hubie, Marina, and Company
2"Sometimes I Wonder"Hubie and Marina
3"The Good Ship Misery"Company
4"Don't Make Me Laugh"Drake
5"Sometimes I Wonder (Reprise)"Marina
6"Looks Like I Got Me a Friend"Hubie and Rocko
7"Now and Forever (Reprise)"Company
8"Now and Forever (End Credits)"Barry Manilow and Sheena Easton



The film's tagline was "The adventure of a lifetime begins with one small pebble".[14] Seventy-five readers of San Antonio Express-News each won four tickets to the film. The special showing was held at 11 a.m. on April 8 at the Embassy Theaters.[15] The Pebble and the Penguin was cross-promoted with Anheuser-Busch's Sea World Parks.[16]

Driving Mr. Pink

The Pebble and the Penguin was accompanied in its theater run by a new Pink Panther short entitled Driving Mr. Pink in the United States,[17] which was adapted from an episode of the successful Pink Panther TV series (though The Pebble and the Penguin was accompanied in its theater run by a new Looney Tunes short entitled Carrotblanca internationally). It is a late one-off short in the Pink Panther short series - they were abundant and popular until 1980.[18]

SFGate described the short as "loud, obnoxious, [and] idiotic".[8] The short introduced the character of Voodoo Man from the 1995 TV show.[5] In the cartoon, "an animated woman runs out of a department store with only her underwear on". It also "features car chases, yelling, and Pink Panther getting knocked around", and "there is a veiled reference to an offensive gesture during the Pink Panther cartoon".[19]


Box office

The Pebble and the Penguin grossed $3,983,912. It was overshadowed by A Goofy Movie which was released five days earlier.[3]

Critical reception

One of animator Don Bluth's lesser efforts, The Pebble and the Penguin is cute but little more. The primary culprit is the script; aside from the unusual setting and small parcels of information about Emperor penguins, is hackneyed and uninvolving. The decision to focus on the relationship between Hubie and Rocko (while relegating the leading female character to nothing more than a trite damsel-in-distress role) is unfortunate, as the writers bring nothing new to the "buddy" concept and their attempts at humorous dialogue for the pair are often painful. With the exception of a song that pays homage to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the Barry Manilow-Bruce Sussman songs are even worse. Bluth is incapable of creating bad animation, and there are several sequences (especially those taking place underwater) that have moments of beauty; overall, however, the animation doesn't have enough sparkle to breathe life into the movie. The cast is certainly not at fault, with Martin Short doing everything short of bursting through the screen to hold the viewer's attention, Tim Curry turning in a reliably sinister performance, and Annie Golden lending her powerful and unique belt to the little she is given to sing. Penguin is not totally without charm -- but the amount it has could almost be fit into a pebble.

A review of the film by AllRovi, concisely summing up the general consensus among reviews.[20]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 11% based on 9 reviews, with an average rating of 3.3/10.[21] The film was given a Two Thumbs Down on Siskel & Ebert, with Gene Siskel noted that the film's animation looks "cheap and unfinished" and that "none of the songs are memorable" while Roger Ebert added his dislike of the "dumb songs", "silly story", and the film's color-coding of its heroes and villains.[22][23] Ebert took this a step further by arguing "What do kids learn from this? Nothing overt. Just a quiet, unstated impression: White is good and brave, and brown is scheming and negative. Reinforce that through lots of cartoons (examples: Aladdin and The Rescuers Down Under) and no wonder even black children choose white dolls in some psychological experiments".[24] Deseret News said, "the songs are forgettable, the story one-note and the characterizations quite weak".[25] The Austin Chronicle said the film "lacks dramatic structure and narrative drive: Songs and animated action pieces are narratively connected but the film doesn't feel as though it is an organic whole. All the elements are here, they just don't come together".[26] Time Out said "The characterisations are weak and unendearing. Worse, the big 'action' sequences turn up with the pacing and predictability of clock chimes. And, in what is perhaps the last great medium for musicals, the perfunctoriness of Barry Manilow's songs and arrangements seem guaranteed to put off yet another generation".[27] The New York Times wrote that 4 would be "the optimum age for viewers of this gentle, animated musical", adding that "the action seems flat and low-rent compared to those earlier movies", and that it "doesn't have the vivid characters, first-rate animation or sense of adventure that turns movies like The Lion King into endlessly watchable favorites".[28]

Washington Post Staff Writer Hal Hinson wrote, "the banality of the story, the pallid look, the flatness of the characters add up to a product that is, at best, second rate".[17] SFGate said the "gnashing whale scenes are intense enough to push the G-rating envelope".[8] The Spokesman-Review wrote, "it is only an average effort in virtually every respect".[29] The Record said "The orchestration is too fancy, too loud and often drowns out the lyrics. This is a kid's movie, but musically it sounds like a full-costume Broadway show with full-supporting chorus line". It added "It's a little disturbing to see a children's movie that perpetuates the erroneous image of killer whales as violent creatures. It is, however, a perfect indication of the limited imagination which went into writing The Pebble and the Penguin".[30] The Free Lance–Star said the film got a "charming mating ritual" and turned it into "sappy action romance with celebrity voices".[9] The book Contemporary North American Film Directors suggested that the film suffered from "the same unimaginative and cliched Disney of the 1970s that Bluth had been so critical of".[31] The Animated Movie Guide said, "the hero was a stuttering wimp, the songs didn't advance the plot, the dialogue was incessant and superfluous, and the pacing was plodding and dull".[5]

Some critics did praise various aspects of the film, however, particularly in regard to Bluth's animation. These reviews, however, were almost exclusively mixed. Common Sense Media said, "the background animation of capricious weather conditions is lovely, as are the top-notch original songs by Barry Manilow and Mark Watters".[32] Deseret News said: "Bluth's strength continues to be colorful, classical-style animation, and there are some gorgeous moments here — especially some underwater sequences".[25] The Austin Chronicle said: "The Pebble and the Penguin features some beautifully animated sequences [...] The characters are great and the voice talents of Martin Short...and James Belushi...are terrific".[26] Variety said the film has a "heartwarming story, some lively songs and professional animation", adding that it is "a sweet, enjoyable romantic tale more likely to succeed as an afternoon diversion on home video than on the big screen".[33] The New York Times wrote "The tunes Mr. Manilow has written for the movie are, like his familiar pop standards, bouncy and catchy", and commented that "the animation is fine".[28] Washington Post Staff Writer Hal Hinson wrote that "A flourishing opening number—titled 'Here and Now'—proves that Short can belt out a song with the best of them", adding that the "Bluth studio style of animation is passable, and, in the case of a Brecht-Weill flavored production number, occasionally inspired."[17]

SFGate described the "show-tune- style songs" as "pleasant but forgettable", adding that "the singing by Short, Belushi, Curry and Broadway belter Golden is the best thing about the film". It also noted that "One of the obvious obstacles was how to color a film whose natural shadings tend toward black, white and degrees of gray. The result is a lot of odd but fascinating colorations -- the sky might turn up yellow at times, or the sea a deep maroon".[8] The Spokesman-Review' wrote "in an era when G-rated movies are as rare as Hollywood humility, any attempt at family entertainment should be lauded", adding "let us salute Don Bluth and his team of animators".[29] In a rare case, The Daily Gazette gave the film 4 stars.[34] The Animated Movie Guide said the film was an "utter waste of talent and resources", due to interference from external forces.[5] Monica Sullivan of Movie Magazine International noted that the film was "heartily enjoyed by the two little girls who saw it with me at a kiddie matinee".[35]


The 2007 DVD release of The Pebble and the Penguin was nominated for a Satellite Award for "Best Youth DVD" from the International Press Academy but was beaten by Disney and Pixar's Ratatouille.[36][37]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2007 The Pebble and the Penguin Satellite Award for Best Youth DVD Nominated

Home media

The Pebble and the Penguin was released on VHS and LaserDisc by MGM/UA Home Video on August 15, 1995.[5] Warner Home Video released the film on VHS internationally in countries such as the UK, Australia, and Japan. It had a rather successful run on home video, becoming a fast seller alongside other animated films released that month, and thus achieved a cult status at the time.

Throughout 1997, songs from the film were released alongside others from the MGM vaults in four MGM Sing-Along cassettes released by MGM. The loosely themed tapes had titles such as "Searching for Your Dreams", "Having Fun", and "Being Happy".[38] The Pebble and the Penguin was first released on DVD in 1999.

A "Family Fun Edition" of the film was released only in the United States and Canada on March 27, 2007, by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Gary Goldman supervised the restoration for the "Family Fun Edition", which features color corrections, refielded scenes to hide missing effects and correct other errors from the theatrical and LaserDisc releases and the VHS and un-restored 1999 print of the DVD releases.[39] The Family Fun Edition was nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Youth DVD.

The 2007 DVD release of The Pebble and the Penguin was according to The Hindu News a part of a wave of penguin-related media consisting of March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Farce of the Penguins, and Surf's Up.[40] This trend was also picked up on by The Paramas Post[41] and The Age.[42] In 2010, the film was re-released along with Rock-a-Doodle as a double sided DVD, but it carries the un-restored 1999 print.[43]

The film was released on Blu-ray for the first time on October 11, 2011.[44]

As of March 20, 2019, the film's international rights ownership, along with the worldwide distribution rights to Thumbelina and A Troll in Central Park, are currently held by the Walt Disney Studios, following their acquisition of 20th Century Fox (although since 2006 and until June 2020, Fox is handling home video distribution of the MGM library including The Pebble and the Penguin).


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